Beware a Hollow Air Force

…current plans to hollow out the Air Force are misguided and will in the long run cost far more to the nation than they will save today. Retiring 650 combat fighters before replacements are ready will necessarily reduce the availability of needed planes and thus U.S. credibility. Yet the Air Force finds itself in a Catch-22, since its fleet is superannuated. Flying airframes until they are falling apart is inexcusable in a country that can spend billions of dollars filling in potholes and repaving curbs.

No airman should be expected to fly planes that are older than he is, but today’s B-52 pilots fly airframes built in the 1960s, and F-15 pilots fly the same planes as did their fathers. The lack of progress on the Next-Generation Bomber similarly puts America’s strategic options at risk. Unless a future president wants to start lobbing ballistic missiles at enemy fortifications, a modern bomber fleet remains necessary to penetrate the heavily defended airspace of potential adversaries.

Why is all this so urgent? Because authoritarian states that seek to challenge global stability are not only getting stronger, but becoming more advanced, as well. China’s air and naval forces are giving it the confidence to stake out claims in the South China, East China, and Yellow Seas that implicitly dare the U.S. to get involved. Both Russia and China are developing two-engine fifth-generation stealth fighters, just when America has shut down F-22 production. News reports this week indicate Russia may sell its most advanced fighters, the Su-35, to China.

Iran will likely soon develop the know-how to build nuclear weapons, and has a ballistic-missile supply source in North Korea. All of these countries, moreover, have increasingly sophisticated integrated air defenses that will prevent U.S. airplanes from entering their airspace — except the F-22, whose numbers are now so low that combatant commanders will be wary of using them for fear of losing them. One doesn’t have to be a fatalist to see various scenarios in which the Air Force will be called upon to respond to a crisis, yet may be unable to do so, or succeed only at appallingly high cost in airmen’s lives.

Today, the Air Force needs to come up with a list of strategic priorities and make its case on Capitol Hill and on Main Street. As next year’s budget is being drawn up, there must be development funding for the Next-Generation Bomber, which has already been canceled once by Secretary Gates. The White House or Senate cannot be allowed to kill the production of C-17 transport planes, which ensure global reach.

Further cutting the production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will drive up the per-plane cost, as anyone with budgetary experience can attest. Equally important, Air Force leadership needs to make Congress face up to the fact that canceling the F-22 was a mistake that will limit the force’s ability to respond to a variety of high-level threats. Finally, the Air Force must ensure it receives funding resources commensurate with its unique missions of providing cyber security and space assets to America’s national-security establishment.

Secretary Gates has criticized military leaders for having “next-waritis,” arguing that they should focus on current conflicts — which today means counterinsurgency operations. But it is dangerously irresponsible for our national-security leadership to ignore state-level threats that are not merely on the horizon, but rapidly approaching. America needs to build the weapons that are necessary for defeating high-level threats, even as our armed forces must better steward their diminishing budgetary resources.

If we intend to maintain American military dominance abroad, the U.S. Air Force cannot be hollowed out and relegated to a supporting role. Nor can it be asked to maintain its global responsibilities with a sub-par force. If the United States wants to maintain the ability to be a global actor, to protect friends, and to dissuade adversaries, then a 360-degree Air Force is a prerequisite, as it has been for the last 60 years.

For its part, the Air Force must reclaim its unique spirit, recommit to core competencies in its nuclear mission, regain control of spiraling costs and procurement problems, and reassert itself in the political process and public debates. Anything less risks failure in the air and a loss of America’s unique role in the world.

– Michael Auslin is a resident scholar in foreign- and defense-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

NASA: Medium Launch Transition Strategy Leverages Ongoing Investments but Is Not Without Risk

GAO Report

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has long relied on the Delta II medium class launch vehicle to launch science missions. Delta II, however, is no longer in production, and no other vehicle in the relative cost and performance range is currently certified for NASA use. Thus, NASA faces a potential gap in the availability of medium class launch vehicles that could cause design challenges, delays, or funding issues.

GAO was asked to assess (1) NASA’s and the Delta II contractor’s, steps to ensure resources (budget, workforce, and facilities) are available to support safe Delta II operations through the last planned NASA flight in 2011; (2) NASA’s plans and contingencies for ensuring a smooth transition from current small and medium class launch vehicles to other launch vehicles for future science missions; (3) the risks associated with NASA’s planned approach to fill the medium launch capability gap; and (4) technical and programmatic implications to science missions if NASA commits to new launch vehicles before they are certified and proven. GAO identified and assessed transition plans and mitigation activities and interviewed responsible NASA and government officials.

NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) is taking steps to address risks and ensure the success of the last planned Delta II launched missions through a combination of specific government approvals and targeted government insight into contractor activities and designs. For example, LSP uses government systems engineers with technical expertise to review or repeat the contractors’ engineering analyses. This is a key factor in high launch success rates.

From 1990 through 2009, LSP has achieved a 98 percent launch success rate. LSP is conducting additional reviews of launch vehicle processing to mitigate risk associated with the remaining Delta II flights. LSP has also identified several specific areas of concern with the remaining Delta II flights–including contractor workforce expertise, postproduction subcontractor support, spare parts, and launch pads–and is taking steps where possible to mitigate risks and ensure the success of the remaining missions. NASA plans to leverage ongoing investments to acquire a new medium launch capability for science missions in the relative cost and performance range of the Delta II.

The agency expects to eventually certify the vehicles being developed for space station resupply for use by NASA science missions. NASA has been in coordination with agency and contractor officials responsible for these efforts. Further, the agency revised its policy to allow for faster certification of new providers. Due to an active small class launch vehicle market and NASA’s relative low need for vehicles in this class, the agency has no plans to develop additional small class launch vehicles. Rather, the agency will acquire these services through the NASA Launch Services II Contract.

NASA’s plan has inherent risks that need to be mitigated. NASA has not developed detailed estimates of the time and money required to resolve technical issues likely to arise during the launch vehicle certification process. As these costs are currently unknown, according to Science Mission Directorate officials, NASA has not yet budgeted for them. Further, both space station resupply vehicles have experienced delays and more delays are likely as launch vehicle development is an inherently risky endeavor. Neither potential provider currently has the facilities needed to launch the majority of NASA earth science missions requiring a medium capability.

NASA medium class science missions that are approaching their preliminary design review face uncertainties related to committing to as yet uncertified and unproven launch vehicles. Launch vehicle decisions for these missions will be made before new vehicles are certified. Because changing the launch vehicle of a science mission after its preliminary design review is likely to lead to significant cost growth and schedule delays, NASA’s intention is to select a launch vehicle and accept the impacts that any delays in the certification process could have to the cost and schedule of the science mission.

NASA officials also indicated that future science missions might be asked to accommodate multiple launch vehicle possibilities if the availability of future vehicles is delayed. GAO recommends that NASA perform a detailed cost estimate based on knowledge gained during launch vehicle certification and adequately budget for potential additional costs. NASA concurred.

GAO-11-107 November 22, 2010

Highlights Page (PDF)   Full Report (PDF, 38 pages)

X-37B Shuttle’s Super Secret Mission to End Soon


Preparations underway for first landing of X-37B

30th Space Wing Public Affairs

11/30/2010 – VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Preparations for the first landing of the X-37B are underway at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Space professionals from the 30th Space Wing will monitor the de-orbit and landing of the Air Force’s first X-37B, called the Orbital Test Vehicle 1 (OTV-1). While the exact landing date and time will depend on technical and weather considerations, it is expected to occur between Friday, December 3, and Monday, December 6, 2010.

NORAD ID: 36514
Int’l Code: 2010-015A
Perigee: 284.9 km
Apogee: 295.8 km
Inclination: 40.0°
Period: 90.2 min
Semi major axis: 6,661.4 km
Launch date: April 22, 2010
Source: United States (US)
Comments: It will land on a runway originally built for the space shuttle at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Officially named the Orbital Test Vehicle. Besides saying the mission will demonstrate the craft’s high-tech capabilities, the Air Force is not releasing any information on what experiments or objectives are planned while the X-37B is in orbit.

Two Line Element Set (TLE):

1 36514U 10015A   10327.74357191  .00025051  00000-0  55503-4 0    04
2 36514  39.9869 111.4048 0008163   6.5863 353.5069 15.96830074    04

More details about OTV 1 (USA 212)


Inside The Cockpit

The exploded engine was scary enough. But in the days following the emergency landing of the Qantas A380 in Singapore, it has become clear just how dangerous the situation was. Multiple systems on the aircraft failed and a disaster was only narrowly avoided.

Rarely had so much flying expertise been assembled in one cockpit. A training pilot was sitting behind Captain Richard de Crespigny, who was completing his annual flight test. Sitting next to them was a third captain whose job was to supervise the training pilot.

Together, the Airbus A380 operated by Australia’s Qantas Airways had a total of 100 years of flying experience sitting in its cockpit. Four minutes after takeoff from Singapore, that accumulated expertise was suddenly in great demand. At an altitude of 2,000 meters (6,560 feet), engine two of the double-decker aircraft exploded. The loud bang of the detonation had hardly faded away before 53 error messages appeared on the monitors.

Upon reading the matter-of-fact messages, the five pilots realized immediately how serious the situation was. Kerosene was leaking from two of the 12 fuel tanks, which meant that the plane could catch fire at any moment.

“It was unbelievably stressful. But in a situation like that, you have no choice but to keep on going,” says Richard Woodward. The captain knows what he is talking about. He also flies the A380 for Qantas, is the vice president of the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) and has looked after the crew since the near-catastrophe almost two weeks ago. “The crew has dealt with this situation extraordinarily well,” Woodward reports. “They’re like horseback riders who, after a fall, are eager to get back on their horses.”

Failed to Activate

The men have given him their accounts of those dramatic moments in the air. There were no warnings before the engine exploded — no change in oil pressure, no unusual vibrations, nothing. When the explosion occurred, the captain quickly pressed an emergency button that activates an automatic extinguishing system when there is an engine fire. But the system failed to activate. “It was clear to him at that point that there must have been more damage,” says Woodward.

One of the training pilots ran back into the cabin, where he saw the holes in the wing caused by loose metal parts from the turbine. As a result, De Crespigny could not dump fuel properly to reduce the weight of the fully fueled aircraft for an emergency landing. He was also unable to pump kerosene from the back to the front of the aircraft, causing it to become increasingly unstable as kerosene escaped.

The incident raises serious questions for both engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce and Airbus. “How could there have been this much loss of function?” asks Woodward.

One of the two hydraulic systems failed and important connecting cables were severed, including those leading to the outer engine one. Although the pilot could still control the engine manually, it could no longer be shut off, so that firefighters had to smother it with extinguishing foam after the emergency landing.

Bad Brakes

“This raises the question of whether the aircraft is improperly designed,” says Woodward. “Apparently certain connections are not redundant; or the two cables are positioned so close together that the shrapnel destroyed them simultaneously.”

The aircraft manufacturer is defending itself against such accusations. The aircraft, says Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath, was “controllable until the landing,” and the autopilot continued to function. “There are two separate hydraulic and electrical systems,” Schaffrath adds. But some of the brakes were no longer working properly. Luckily, the pilots were able to land in Singapore, which has a very long, 4,000-meter runway.

Another dramatic aspect of the emergency landing was that an anti-lock system also stopped working. Three tires burst when the plane touched down as a result, sending sparks into the air. “And that was with two holes in the tank!” says Woodward.

Very Conservative

At least the reason for the engine explosion is now clear. Last week, Rolls-Royce identified a defective part in the turbine, which caused an oil leak that led to the fire. Of the superjumbo jets delivered to date, 20 are affected by the problem, including three at Lufthansa. The defective engine part will gradually be replaced.

Qantas pilot Woodward is pleased that his company has made a “very conservative safety decision” to temporarily ground the A380. But he does wonder why the other airlines potentially affected by the engine defect are not taking similar precautions.

Lufthansa points out that it has such short maintenance intervals that dangerous oil leaks are bound to be discovered. But Woodward isn’t convinced, saying: “Our plane had just returned from maintenance in Frankfurt, and the accident happened nonetheless.”

Internet Source/Credit/Translation Unknown

Qantas Airbus A380 inflight engine failure

Unconfirmed Damage overview

* massive fuel leak in the left mid fuel tank (the beast has 11 tanks, including in the horizontal stabiliser on the tail)

* massive fuel leak in the left inner fuel tank

* a hole on the flap canoe/fairing that you could fit your upper body through

* the aft gallery in the fuel system failed, preventing many fuel transfer functions

* fuel jettison had problems due to the previous problem above

* bloody great hole in the upper wing surface

* partial failure of leading edge slats

* partial failure of speed brakes/ground spoilers

* shrapnel damage to the flaps

* TOTAL loss of all hydraulic fluid in the Green System (beast has 2 x 5,000 PSI systems, Green and Yellow)

* manual extension of landing gear

* loss of 1 generator and associated systems

* loss of brake anti-skid system

* unable to shutdown adjacent #1 engine using normal method after landing due to major damage to systems

* unable to shutdown adjacent #1 engine using using the fire switch!!!!!!!!

Therefore, no fire protection was available for that engine after the explosion in #2

* ECAM warnings about major fuel imbalance because of fuel leaks on left side, that were UNABLE to be fixed with cross-feeding

* fuel trapped in Trim Tank (in the tail). Therefore, possible major center of gravity out-of-balance condition for landing.

Rolls-Royce: Journey Through A Jet Engine

Related Links:

Stricken Qantas A380 jet was full of holes